Why sulfates, parabens and silicones are bad for your hair

By Babba Rivera

Photo: Getty

Navigating hair care to find truly clean products can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be...

All products featured on Vogue are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.


When I first transformed my skin by going clean, I saw the amazing results and wanted to do the same for my hair. But it seemed like I had to pick between natural, environmentally-friendly products that didn’t give me the same results I wanted, or performance-driven products that were chock full of chemicals. When I founded my own brand, it was with the purpose of tackling both these issues—creating both high-performance and clean products that are the equivalent of skincare for the hair.

Unfortunately, there are still many brands out there that claim to be “clean” but still include unsafe and damaging ingredients like silicones, sulfates, and parabens in their formulas. The hair care aisle is behind, dominated by a styling approach rather than a nourishing one—think covering up with makeup rather than healing with skincare.
Here’s how to spot these dangerous ingredients and why you should steer clear.


Silicones are the most sneaky ingredient, found in nearly every category of beauty from haircare to makeup. These microplastics are used to create silky slip and shine; however, they are more of a band-aid than a cure for the root problem. Silicones have a temporary softening effect on hair, making it look sleek and shiny for a short period of time. Eventually, though, they build up and weaken the follicles—leaving hair dry, dull, heavy, and prone to breakage.

Opting for clean, silicone-free products can help balance the natural oils of your scalp and naturally soften your locks over time. Silicones come in many different forms and are not always easy to spot in an ingredient list, they often hide behind ingredients that end in -cone, -conols, -silones, and -siloxanes.

While clean formulas usually don't have the same quick fix appeal, there are powerful brands out there pushing the boundaries for what we as consumers can expect from clean beauty.

Babba Rivera


Sulfates are detergents that make shampoos lather and wash away dirt and buildup - but they are too powerful, often stripping our scalps of the natural oils and proteins that nourish, strengthen, and protect our hair. If you’ve ever washed your hair with a drug store brand and found it feeling “squeaky clean” after (not actually a good thing!), that’s from the sulfates.

The most common sulfate found in shampoos and other hair care products is sodium laureth sulfate, but there are others to look out for, too: namely, sodium lauryl sulfate, laureth sulfate sodium, lauryl sulfoacetate sodium, lauroyl isethionate, and sodium lauroyl taurate.

Using products that are based on substances like silicones, parabens and sulfates only provide temporary effects that in the long run cause more damage to our hair. Photo: Getty